Seattle’s Intentionet lands $3M in Om Malik’s first Pacific NW investment

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The process of developing software has been dramatically improved over the last several years with the introduction of concepts like continuous deployment and automatic debugging. The founders of Intentionet think those concepts should be applied to network engineering.


Intentionet, based in Seattle, received $3 million in seed funding from True Ventures this week in order to build a development platform and tools for network engineers to enjoy some of the same modern comforts as their software developer colleagues. The founders — Ratul Mahajan, Ari Fogel, and Todd Millstein — are building the company on top of an open-source research project called Batfish, which they helped develop.


True Ventures’ Om Malik is leading the investment into the company, his first investment in a company based in the Pacific Northwest and the first outside commercial investment it has accepted outside of a grant from the National Science Foundation.


Software-defined networking forever changed the way companies build and scale large networks, but not all of the benefits of modern software development have made their way into the network itself, Mahajan said in an interview Friday. That was the inspiration behind the tools and services Intentionet plans to offer: “We figured out how to do it in research, now can we make it real?” he said.


Intentionet co-founder Ratul Mahajan

There are two basic philosophies behind Intentionet’s technology.


The first is that networking configuration changes should be pushed across a network in more or less the same manner that application software changes are pushed across a network. The current networking model requires engineers to log into individual boxes and write new code if they want to make changes, and that takes time, he said.


The second is that networking debugging should be automated; there are too many humans in the workflow of current networking debugging practices. “You can look at us like doing for networking what EDA (electronic design automation) technology did for hardware,” Mahajan said.


If it all works, combining these two ideas should allow Intentionet’s customers to rapidly scale their networks with greater confidence.


“Today’s networks are highly complex, and this complexity leads to outages, security breaches and compliance violations. Ratul and I met to chat about the evolution of networks, and how managing scale and complexity is going to become key for the future of network infrastructure,” Malik said via email, explaining his thinking behind the investment.


Mahajan — who worked for Microsoft Research for many years — and Millstein received Ph.Ds from the University of Washington’s computer science department. They plan to grow the company, which currently has six full-time employees, in Seattle.


As is fashionable in enterprise tech business models these days, the plan is to offer proprietary tools that make the underlying open-source project easier to use in a corporate environment. Intentionet can be run on-premise or through a hybrid cloud service provider, and the company will support either approach.


(Disclosure: For years I was executive editor at Gigaom, the tech media company founded by Malik, and despite the fact that he is a Yankees fan we’ve remained in touch.)


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